Linda Hesh: Safe/Suspect

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Creation Year:




Artist Statement:

    For the past few years, I have been working on a group of computer-altered photographs that start with a normal studio portrait as a base for each piece. The models are used as mannequins that I digitally embellish. I use this construct to portray aspects of our culture and not those of the individual subject.

    Racial profiling is the subject of my Safe/Suspect series. The terrorist attacks of 9/11/01 heightened our awareness of ethnicity. Racists felt vindicated as their suspicions appeared to become reality. People were being detained and questioned for the color of their skin, an alignment of facial features, and a type of head wear. Our “melting pot” suddenly seemed to have a bad element that needed to be extracted. Conveniently, that element looked different enough that anyone could pick it out.

    Digital technology allows me to experiment with my own reactions to appearance. I would not consider myself a racist, but I know I feel differently about the “Safe” on the left and the “Suspect” on the right. A change of skin tone and facial structure can lead to assumptions about place of birth, life history, motivations, and personality. The concept of photography as a depiction of reality is so strong that computer-altered images can be very confusing. We look from one image to another to try to decipher the mystery of what has been digitally altered. Through this process, our feeling about ethnic appearances may be revealed to ourselves, as we become aware of how little actually comprises a racial difference.